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Diamond in the Rough

Washington, Once Again a Baseball Town, May Need a Refresher Course in Building a Fan Base

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page C01

As we sort out the minor details, such as who will own the team, what the name will be, and how much money will have to be paid to the big whiner in Baltimore, let us pause to ask the deeper philosophical question:

Is Washington really a baseball town?

Glory days: The Senators take on the Yankees at D.C.'s Griffith Stadium in the season opener, April 17, 1956. Will today's Washington root, root, root for the new home team? (Evan Vucci -- AP)

_____ Baseball Returns to D.C. _____
 D.C. Baseball
Bud Selig announces that the troubled Montreal Expos will move to Washington, returning baseball to the nation's capital for the 2005 season.
While the Expos aren't very good now, they have loads of potential.
News Graphic: Time to settle down
Q&A on the new team
Graphic: Meet your Expos (PDF).
Survey: What should we call D.C.'s new team?  |  Discuss.
After having RFK to itself for eight years, D.C. United will share.
Details sketchy on how regional sports network would operate.
There was a time when the Expos were the envy of all of baseball.
News Graphic: Coming full circle.
D.C. region has suffered through an endless number of close calls.
 D.C. Baseball
City officials, led by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, gleefully celebrate the end of a generation of frustration.
District's offer described as very generous.
News Graphic: Stadium strategy
A majority of the D.C. Council supports the mayor's stadium plan.
When the hoopla dies down, will D.C. still have baseball fever?
In Virginia, some blame Gov. Warner for failure to lure Expos.
More than 50 years ago, it was Baltimore that needed D.C.'s help.
Orioles management had little to say Wednesday about the news.
Expos final home game is marred by unruly fan behavior.

_____ Post Columnists  _____
Thomas Boswell: We are finally getting exactly what we wished for.
Sally Jenkins: D.C. is getting a bad team and a potential financial mess.
Michael Wilbon: There are only four choices for the name of the new club.
Mike Wise: Talk to the old Nats, you realize baseball never left.
George Solomon: Finally, Shirley Povich is looking down and smiling.
Marc Fisher: Baseball's challenge is to connect with the black kids.

_____ Multimedia  _____
 D.C. Baseball
Video: D.C. residents have mixed feelings about the relocation.
Video: D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams makes the announcement.
Video: In 2003, a D.C. official details improvements to RFK.
Video: The Post's Garcia-Ruiz on what still needs to be done at RFK.
Audio: Ex-Senators announcer Ron Menchine on the proposed move.
Audio: Ex-announcer Bob Wolf says D.C. team, Orioles can thrive.

_____ Live Online  _____
Post's Tom Heath was online Thursday. Read the transcript.
The Post's J.J. McCoy took questions before Wednesday's announcement. Read the transcript.

_____ On Our Site  _____
 D.C. Baseball
The District has been without major league baseball for more than 30 years. Look back at a visual history of the Washington Senators.
Eighty years ago, the Senators won their only world championship.
What's your opinion?

_____MLB Basics_____
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Chicago is a baseball town. Boston is a baseball town. St. Louis is a baseball town.


Five years from now, when the novelty of a new team and a new stadium has worn off, when the lobbyists are bored with their box seats, when the Washington Partisans have (and we are just noodling with the worst-case scenario) an unchallenged incumbency in last place, how many fans will still have baseball fever?

Baseball promoters in Washington give a standard answer: Washington can be a great baseball town, but a winning ball club will make it a lot easier.

"Everybody loves a winner, and they want to be associated with it, psychologically," said Charlie Brotman, the former public address announcer for the Washington Senators and the master of ceremonies at yesterday's announcement that baseball has come back to Washington.

"After the third year they're going to have to start playing at least .500 ball," he said. "Washington is definitely a good baseball town, a good sports town. But when you win, it's the best sports town."

Columnist and baseball fanatic George Will echoes this point.

"Washington, having the highest concentration of ambition pound for pound and square foot on the planet, and therefore the highest ratio of impatience to serenity, is a town that likes winners," he said. Baseball, he noted, involves a lot of losing. Superior hitters still fail about 70 percent of the time. "In baseball the best team in the league is going to walk off with a loss about 60 times a year."

Thus Washington may have to overcome its natural disdain for anything that smacks of failure. Historically, the city has not had a lot of lovable losers. Whoever loses the presidential race in November will never eat lunch in this town again.

Football is the exception. No franchise in the National Football League is as valuable as the Redskins, and for Monday night's game they lured more than 90,000 people to the logistical nightmare of FedEx Field. By contrast, the Wizards, née Bullets, have had trouble filling the seats over the years in part because of an astonishing run of mediocrity.

One explanation is the big-event theory. Brotman said that Washingtonians are "sophisticated" about events and want to be at the big show, the prizefight, the prime-time football game. The Redskins have only eight home games. But a professional basketball team has 41 home games, and baseball is an everyday sport for half the year, with 81 home games.

That's a lot of tickets to sell. But William Hanbury, president of the Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corp., radiated confidence at the announcement at the City Museum yesterday as he listened to city leaders congratulate themselves for getting a team.

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